Origin of robustness in generating drug-resistant malaria parasites.

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Origin of robustness in generating drug-resistant malaria parasites.

Mol Biol Evol. 2014 Jul;31(7):1649-60

Authors: Kümpornsin K, Modchang C, Heinberg A, Ekland EH, Jirawatcharadech P, Chobson P, Suwanakitti N, Chaotheing S, Wilairat P, Deitsch KW, Kamchonwongpaisan S, Fidock DA, Kirkman LA, Yuthavong Y, Chookajorn T

Biological robustness allows mutations to accumulate while maintaining functional phenotypes. Despite its crucial role in evolutionary processes, the mechanistic details of how robustness originates remain elusive. Using an evolutionary trajectory analysis approach, we demonstrate how robustness evolved in malaria parasites under selective pressure from an antimalarial drug inhibiting the folate synthesis pathway. A series of four nonsynonymous amino acid substitutions at the targeted enzyme, dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), render the parasites highly resistant to the antifolate drug pyrimethamine. Nevertheless, the stepwise gain of these four dhfr mutations results in tradeoffs between pyrimethamine resistance and parasite fitness. Here, we report the epistatic interaction between dhfr mutations and amplification of the gene encoding the first upstream enzyme in the folate pathway, GTP cyclohydrolase I (GCH1). gch1 amplification confers low level pyrimethamine resistance and would thus be selected for by pyrimethamine treatment. Interestingly, the gch1 amplification can then be co-opted by the parasites because it reduces the cost of acquiring drug-resistant dhfr mutations downstream in the same metabolic pathway. The compensation of compromised fitness by extra GCH1 is an example of how robustness can evolve in a system and thus expand the accessibility of evolutionary trajectories leading toward highly resistant alleles. The evolution of robustness during the gain of drug-resistant mutations has broad implications for both the development of new drugs and molecular surveillance for resistance to existing drugs.

PMID: 24739308 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]